Urgency of a paradigm shift

A course correction, would help Islamabad wipe out distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists.

 Finally, India has decided to resume the stalled dialogue process with Pakistan with a forthcoming visit by its foreign secretary to Islamabad. It is of no consequence here to argue whether the move is dictated by US President Barack Obama’s ‘advice’ to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. What is relevant to ask is whether these talks will achieve something substantial?

Pakistan government has sent confused, contradictory signals over its reported ban on a dozen terror outfits, including notorious Haqqani network and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Public outrage over the Peshawar school massacre has already started to fade. So has the government’s will to act against the jihadi factories. If this ‘business as usual’ continues, how would India respond?

As far as Modi’s Pakistan policy is concerned, he has combined friendly gestures with an unyielding response to boundary provocations. But his mortars-for-bullet response to Pakistan’s ceasefire violations has severe strategic limitations and the grudging decision to resume talks is a tacit recognition of this. Indian provocation short of an attack on Pakistan would lack credibility, and any attack on Pakistan may trigger either a conventional retaliation or a nuclear response.

In the event of an Indian attack, the nuclear option will be far more tempting to Pakistani generals as their army is already stretched thin on account of ongoing war against homegrown Taliban terrorists along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Pakistan army strongly feels that any major armed conflagration would invite outside intervention led by the US.

It is also being claimed that Modi’s approach to Pakistan reflects the same principle that directed then US President Ronald Reagan’s dealings with the former USSR during the last phase of the Cold War: ‘peace through strength’.

Adopting Reaganite foreign policy logic of rapid military build-up coupled with new military-diplomatic means to pressurise the Soviets was easier said then done due to their financial and geostrategic implications. After all, India cannot make Pakistan go bankrupt as long as the latter has the US, China and Saudi Arabia to bail it out.

But India’s frustration to find a way to force Pakistan to end its support for jihadi terrorism is not something that Pakistan can permanently rejoice at. An aggressive, assertive and dismissive India under Modi would be an entity that Pakistan is not accustomed to deal with.

Equally importantly, Pakistan is no longer the ‘master of events’ as it assumed that it would always remain. Its space for opportunistic manoeuvring has drastically shrunk in recent years and the once-advantageous strategy of asymmetric warfare has come to seriously challenge its very existence.

If Pakistan army does not show a greater sense of urgency to act against its so-called ‘strategic assets’, then Pakistani society will have to be psychologically prepared to absorb more Peshawar like massacres. Two more brutal attacks by the Taliban terrorists on Shia mosques in Shikarpur and Peshawar recently demonstrated just that.

Trusting neighbours

Building and sustaining trust with neighbours depends upon a united government and strong leadership sufficiently in control of a country’s national security policy. Overcoming the psychology of mutual fear and distrust also requires a dramatic conciliatory move. Modi undoubtedly enjoys that position in India.

But the massive mandate received by the BJP in the last general elections has its own limitations as the hardcore Hindutva supporters of Modi would immediately frown at him going out of his way to seek peace with India’s arch-enemy who continues to motivate and sponsor the jihadists to spread terror in India. On the other hand, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif no longer enjoys a position of pre-eminence in Pakistan’s foreign and strategic affairs.

Although Modi has found a way to engage with Islamabad through smartly packaged ‘SAARC Yatra’, its success or failure would depend on how the Pakistan army responds this time. Even when the army does not rule Pakistan directly, its shadow always lurks on the country’s political horizon. Thus, army is highly suited to break the impasse in bilateral relations and the Modi government should show flexibility by making Pakistan army a direct stakeholder in the process.

Year 2015 presents a unique opportunity for Pakistan army to rewrite its relationship with India which is marred by trust deficit, miscalculation and self-destructive antagonism. But this would require much more than mere words. It would require Pakistan’s security establishment to produce a much-needed paradigm shift in its strategic thinking.

A course correction, which is fundamental and not just tactical, would efficiently help Islamabad wipe out long-held distinction between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists. Turning their national identification away from anti-India narrative would make Islamabad view New Delhi not as an implacable adversary but as an irresistible, enthusiastic partner for trade and investment.

A positive gesture from Pakistan army would bring about a decisive breakthrough and embolden Modi to doubly promote conciliation between New Delhi and Islamabad. After all, Modi, who seems committed to the logic of free flow of goods, people and ideas, is conscious of the fundamental reality that India needs a politically stable and economically dynamic Pakistan who is at peace with itself internally and at peace with its immediate neighbours.

(The writer is with the Department of International Affairs and Security Studies, Sardar Patel Police University, Jodhpur)

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